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Concert review: The John Wilson Orchestra – Cole Porter in Hollywood

The John Wilson Orchestra, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Thursday November 20th *****

It used to be the Christmas edition of the Radio Times that would work classic movie lovers into a festive frenzy each year, but these days, the biggest pre-Christmas thrill for film fans in Glasgow is the annual visit to the Concert Hall by the man who it wouldn’t be far-fetched to describe as the patron saint of Hollywood musicals: John Wilson.

In previous years, Wilson and his wonderful orchestra have brought programmes themed around the musicals of MGM and Fox, as well as by Richard Rodgers. This time, it was the Hollywood oeuvre of the great songwriter/composer Cole Porter which was celebrated, to mark the 50th anniversary of his death – a fact that prompted one old biddy in the audience to loudly respond “Aw”, as if news of Porter’s death was just breaking.

Good humour abounded, thanks partly to Wilson’s entertaining introductions and largely to the wit in Porter’s lyrics which the quartet of singers clearly relished performing. Anna-Jane Casey and Matthew Ford’s You’re the Top highlighted the fact that the song is akin to screwball comedy banter set to jazzy music. The dark side of Porter shone through on So In Love, while two less familiar ballads – Between You and Me and You Can Do No Wrong – were pure romance.

The star, however, was the band with its joyful playing, its obvious devotion to its conductor and its brilliance creating both a sumptuous, MGM-worthy sound and a swinging big band vibe. It seduced the audience with its glorious opening medley, and enthralled throughout – notably on the swoonsomely romantic Silk Stockings ballet. As Mr Porter might have said: “You’re the top, you’re the Hepburn posture. You’re the top; you’re the Wilson Orch’stra … ”

* First published in The Herald, Monday November 24th

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Concert review: The John Wilson Orchestra – That’s Entertainment

The John Wilson Orchestra: That’s Entertainment, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Friday November 22nd *****

It’s unlikely that there will ever be an orchestral concert that’s as thrilling to this movie fan as the first MGM Musicals concert that conductor John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra gave in Glasgow in 2010, with a quartet of singers including Curtis Stigers and Seth MacFarlane. But Friday’s return to the Concert Hall with a programme drawn from the same source came close on a number of occasions.

It’s not just the fact that Wilson has lovingly reconstructed the lost orchestrations by the great arrangers and composers who worked for MGM’s Freed Unit and who gave the studio its luxurious, distinctive house style. Nor is it the fact that he always has the best musicians in his band to play them. It’s the thrill of hearing songs you have only ever heard on TV or record, in your home, being brought dynamically to life with the utmost attention to every detail of the original version of which everyone is so fond.

In 2010, Singin’ in the Rain and The Trolley Song produced this magical effect. On Friday, the stand-outs were A Couple of Swells – brilliantly performed by Anna-Jane Casey and Matthew Ford – and High Society’s I Love You Samantha, with trumpeter Mike Lovett in the Louis Armstrong role.

Other highlights included a spectacular I Got Rhythm, with the orchestra giving the fabulous Dorsey band a run for its money, numbers from Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings, and the entire An American in Paris ballet. Lowlights? The £7 programme price tag, and the borderline scary crush as a good proportion of the full house tried to leave the Concert Hall onto Killermont Street – via one exit.

First published in The Herald, Monday November 25th

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